After Haywood McCrank made his discovery, he spent two more weeks following up on it.
Incidentally, the Summer Sun Celebration was supposed to take place sometime during that interval. Alas, due to a variety of factors – which included the country being under martial law, Princess Celestia's refusal to leave her son's side, and the overall sullen mood of the common people – there was neither time nor willingness to prepare for an event of that magnitude. So the Celebration had to be called off for that year.
All the same, Sir Haywood did not waste those fourteen days. Princess Luna's new lead marked the beginning of a promising trail in his investigation, and at the end by those two weeks, he made his biggest breakthrough pertaining to the Vermane yet.
Soon after, he acted upon his findings in a very straightforward and decisive fashion.
Five weeks altogether had elapsed since the Grand Galloping Gala. For the first three, Verse A. Till had been tied down to a chair, a bed, or a table, and the Firebrand Regiment had routinely interrogated and tortured him for information.
While Sir Haywood looked into his new lead for the last two weeks, he had decided to let Sir Verse be. So the glaucous stallion was released from his restraints, and he was placed in solitary confinement.
He was kept in a holding cell and held under constant surveillance by two or more of the Regiment's members. They gave him all the comforts of home; he could wash himself, and he was provided with three meals each day. No one ever visited him, not that he expected them to. Still, he was somewhat curious as to why the Regiment had decided to give him a break after everything they had put him through.
Little did he suspect that at the end of this two-week respite, Sir Haywood McCrank would finally break him.
Two weeks and a day after Sir Haywood and Princess Luna spied on him in his dreams, Sir Verse was brought out of his holding cell and taken to one of the interrogation chambers. The room was dimly lit, and it was empty, save for a chair in the center of it. There was also a window on the wall that the chair was pointed towards. It connected into the adjoining interrogation chamber, which was completely dark.
After Beretta and Heckler bound Verse A. Till to the chair, Sir Haywood McCrank, Glock, Carabine, and Ruger entered the chamber.
Glock and Carabine stood guard at the door, Ruger positioned herself by the window, and Sir Haywood McCrank moved directly in front of Sir Verse.
The indigo stallion spent about a minute staring down intently at the glaucous stallion. The silence was as uncomfortable and menacing as the overall setting.
Ultimately, Sir Haywood ended the silence when he asked rhetorically "Do you have anything to say now, Sir Verse?"
"Not for you," Verse A. Till mumbled bluntly.
Sir Haywood sighed and perceived sardonically "So the last two weeks have not swayed your mind."
"No, my tongue is no more loose than it was a fortnight ago," Verse A. Till pronounced drily, "I welcomed the solitude, though. I was beginning to think that you'd lost interest in me,"
"As long as the prince's life is in danger, you're the most interesting thing around," Haywood McCrank claimed, "I have not forgotten the promise I made. I swore I would get you to talk."
"You haven't had much success in that pursuit so far," Verse A. Till scathingly noted.
"No, I have not," Haywood McCrank freely admitted. He then stepped forward, looked Sir Verse directly in the eye, and declared "But by the time this conversation is over, I won't be able to get you to shut up,"
Sir Verse merely raised an eyebrow and queried "Why is that?"
"Oh, you could call it a gamble," Haywood McCrank professed. He then backed up a few steps and started pacing in front of the chair. As he focused his gaze on Verse A. Till, he stated casually "On that subject, do you like to gamble?"
Despite the ostensible randomness and irrelevance of that question, Verse A. Till chose to answer it with "Not especially."
"Really?" Sir Haywood said, feigning surprise, "Then I'm guessing you don't spend a lot of time in Las Pegasus."
Again, Sir Verse was perplexed by that statement. Even so, he solemnly claimed "I've been to all of Equestria's major cities. That includes Las Pegasus. But how is that related to this?"
Rather than providing some clarity, Sir Haywood McCrank disclosed "I myself do not care much for gambling, either. At least not when the stakes are money. But when information is used as the incentive, I'm always willing to place a bet. In fact, I think I'll make such a wager right now."
After a brief pause, he continued with "I'm going to tell you what I've been up to these past two weeks. I will share with you all the new data I've acquired in my investigation. Once I'm done, you will trade me some of your own information. In other words, you will tell me how to find the other members of the Vermane. You may be determined to keep your mouth shut now, but soon enough, nopony – not even you – will stop you from telling me what I want to know."
Verse A. Till cocked his head and murmured "I am slightly curious as to why you are so confident that your new approach will work. Just for that, I'll play along with this charade."
"Oh, this is not a charade, I assure you," Haywood McCrank firmly contended.
The Superintendent then reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a small slip of paper. He approached the former assistant to Lord Ambit Dexter and showed him the slip of paper. It was a photograph of an Earth Pony mare in her late twenties.
"Do you recognize this mare?" Sir Haywood demanded.
"She looks… a little familiar," Verse A. Till tentatively responded, suddenly less eager to speak.
"She should," Haywood McCrank debated, "You sat before her and took notes on everything she said for five days a week almost every week for nine months."
Verse A. Till smirked and noted cheekily "You seem to know quite a bit about her already."
"More than a bit," Sir Haywood avowed, "Her name is Risky Triumph. Like you, she is a native of Whinnypeg. You and she were born and raised in that town, though she was your elder by about ten years. She was also a lifelong professor of law and order. As it happens, she taught advanced criminal justice at the high school you attended. In your senior year, you took her class."
"Yes, it was a requirement for those of us who intended to get government-related jobs," Sir Verse conceded.
"I know; I myself took a similar class when I was in high school," Haywood McCrank elucidated. He then leaned closer and uttered softly "But a prerequisite was not all you got out of Risky Triumph's course."
Verse A. Till grimaced a little and muttered "What are you insinuating, Sir Haywood?"
"Only facts," the indigo stallion divulged, "According to your school's archives, you were rather fond of your criminal justice teacher. At your graduation ceremony, you asked her to sponsor you, and you named her as your favorite teacher in the yearbook. But you know what I find most intriguing? You often went to her house for tutoring."
He leaned even closer to the glaucous stallion and reprovingly added in "In spite of the fact that you were her best student."
"I'm sensing an accusation in those words," Verse A. Till murmured indifferently.
Haywood McCrank just carried on with: "As I'm sure you know, Risky Triumph had a husband named Mint Condition. She had already been married to him for four years when you began your senior year of high school. At that point in time, they still had no foals of their own. However, a few months before you graduated, she became pregnant. From what I've heard, Mint Condition was greatly looking forward to becoming a parent. Yet shortly after their son Deft Pawn was born, he left them. Why do you suppose that is?"
Ser Verse simply shrugged and hypothesized "Perhaps he could not handle the stress and pressure of parenthood."
"As probable as that pathetic excuse would be, I am certain it was not his motive for leaving," Sir Haywood debated, "No, he left his wife and her newborn colt for a much more personal reason."
"Which was…?" Verse A. Till uttered frankly.
"Risky Triumph and Mint Condition were both Earth Ponies," Haywood McCrank disclosed, "Their foal, however, was born with a horn."
At that, he reached into his jacket and pulled out two more photographs. One was of a Unicorn stallion, also in his late twenties. The other was of Sir Verse A. Till. While the photograph of Risky Triumph was about thirty years old, these two had been taken fairly recently. Sir Haywood held up the three pictures alongside each other so one could compare and contrast them.
"It's plainly obvious that Mint Condition was not Deft Pawn's father," Haywood McCrank perceived, "You were."
The glaucous Unicorn let out a deep sigh and murmured "No point in denying it. Yes, I sired that colt."
The indigo Earth Pony grinned sneakily and commented "See? I've already started to get a confession out of you."
"You've still got a long way to go until I tell you anything about my associates," Verse A. Till stoically countered.
"Give me time," was all Sir Haywood said in response.
The federal investigator slid the three photographs back into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. Then he proclaimed "Of course, you were never publicly acknowledged as the Deft Pawn's father. Doubtlessly because you were underage when he was conceived, and your affair with Risky Triumph would have generated a scandal. Even so, you must have figured out that he was yours, as you were frequently seen visiting Risky Triumph even after you finished your compulsory education. In fact, she almost never used a foalsitter; she just went to you."
"So I played an active role in my son's upbringing," Verse A. Till remarked, "What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing," Haywood McCrank retorted, "If anything, it proves that you have a redeeming quality. That could be the one truly admirable thing you've done with your life."
"The only one?" Sir Verse mumbled irately, "Fourteen years in the National Guard. Twelve years as the assistant to the Chairpony of the War Council. Over twenty commendations for protecting the peoples of Equestria."
"For all I know, those deeds were just a means to an end," Sir Haywood contended, "The end being the attempt on Prince Bronze Star's life."
"You speak as though the plot to murder the prince began the moment he was born," Verse A. Till noted crossly.
"Did it?" Haywood presumed.
"No," Verse claimed, "I have been an assassin longer than Bronze Star's been alive, but the idea to kill him and make a profit from his death was not conceptualized until recently."
"Well, tell me one thing," Sir Haywood McCrank requested, "Your relationships with Princess Celestia, Lord Ambit Dexter, Prince Bronze Star, and everypony else in this building… Were they all lies? Was there anything real about them at all?"
"I did come to care for some of them," Verse A. Till contended, "But I always kept my distance, and I never let myself get emotionally attached to anypony. In my line of work – my role as a member of the 'Vermane,' as you call us – it is critical that you never get too close. There is always a chance that someday, you may have to kill somepony you know. That somepony could be anypony."
"That I can understand," Haywood McCrank disputed, "But on the subject of getting close… let's go back to the topic of your son."
"If you insist," Sir Verse murmured in apparent disinterest, "What about him?"
Haywood McCrank finally lowered the three photographs and professed "Although you were obligated to take care of Deft Pawn, you usually looked after him from afar. Evidently, you didn't want anypony discovering the true nature of your relationship with him. Still, that did not keep you from him. You made an effort to visit him three or more times every week during his foalhood. Visiting him got to be a little harder when you enlisted in the National Guard, but even then, you managed to spend time with him."
"I can see how you established the connection between myself and Deft Pawn," Verse A. Till stated, "All the same, there is one aspect about your deduction that perplexes me. How did you even manage to find the connection in the first place? I'm not listed anywhere in his next of kin, nor is he in mine. Mint Condition is still listed as his father on his birth certificate, and I wasn't in line to be his guardian when he was a colt. What else could have led you to uncover our relationship?"
Sir Haywood promptly reached into his pants pocket and extracted a large creased piece of paper. He unfolded it, smoothed it out flat, and showed it to the glaucous stallion. Simultaneously, he answered his question with "Maybe this."
Now, Verse A. Till started to look anxious. The piece of paper was a deed of inheritance. He furrowed his brow and snapped "Where did you get that?"
Grinning deviously, Haywood McCrank revealed "It was in a safety deposit box in Las Pegasus. The box was owned under a pseudonym, but I was able to trace it back to you. I also found a regular bank account signed under that same alias. According to the bank president, you only visited that particular bank once. On that occasion, you set up both the account and box. Then you deposited five million bits into the former. But this deed is all that you put into the latter."
Haywood paused for a few seconds, savoring the expression of astonishment on Verse A. Till's face. Then he went on with "As to how I discovered the connection between you and Deft Pawn, it was simple. The intended recipient of this deed lives at Deft Pawn's current address. After doing some research on that building and its occupants, there was little left to the imagination with regards to your relationship with Deft Pawn."
By now, Verse A. Till was beginning to perspire. His sweat was fairly easy to notice, given how he was sitting under the only source of light in that interrogation chamber.
"Five million bits is hardly a small fortune," Haywood McCrank contended, gazing down at the deed of inheritance, "Interestingly, the recipient of the fortune is not your child. It's his."
At that, he got out a fourth photograph and held it up high. This picture had been taken very recently. The pony in it was a ten-year-old Unicorn filly.
"As I'm sure you know, Deft Pawn is now a father himself," Haywood McCrank pronounced, "He has his own house in Whinnypeg where he lives with his wife Hula Plow and his daughter Velvety Touch. From what I've gathered, his wife thinks you're her father-in-law in name only. His daughter, on the other hoof, idolizes you. While she has only seen you a few times, she cherishes each and every one of those meetings. She loves you just as much as she loves her parents, if not more so. She feels honored to have a grandfather who works at Canterlot Castle, despite the fact that you have forbidden her from telling anypony about your profession."
Now Sir Verse A. Till felt mutually stunned and bewildered. "How could you possibly know all that?"
"Because I heard it all directly from Velvety Touch's mouth," Sir Haywood candidly revealed.
Sir Verse's eyes expanded in shock. He assumed anxiously "You visited her?"
"More like the other way around," Haywood McCrank slyly countered. He put the photograph of Velvety Touch away, and he declared "That brings us to our present scenario."
He turned to Ruger and waved his right front leg once. In response, the taupe mare approached a panel of knobs that was located next to the window in the interrogation chamber. She adjusted the settings of a few of the knobs. Straightaway, the lights in the adjoining interrogation chamber were activated, and the sound dampening field between the two rooms was lowered.
When Verse A. Till saw what was in the other interrogation chamber, his heart skipped a beat.
There were four chairs in that chamber, each one of them occupied. A middle-aged Earth Pony mare sat in one chair, a young adult Unicorn mare in another, a young adult Unicorn stallion in a third, and a Unicorn filly in the last. Sir Verse A. Till immediately identified them as Risky Triumph, Hula Plow, Deft Pawn, and Velvety Touch respectively.
All four of them were strapped to their chairs by their front legs, hind legs, torsos, and necks. They were also blindfolded. Koch, Caracal, and Peacemaker were in the room, as well. Peacemaker was standing next to a table which held a tray of medical instruments.
Sir Haywood McCrank positioned himself in a way that he did not block the glaucous stallion's view of the window, but he remained in Verse A. Till's field of vision.
He locked his gaze on the other knight and told him calmly "So this is how it's going to go, Sir Verse. Here and now, you will tell us how to find the Vermane. All of the Vermane. If you do not, you will watch your son, his wife, his mother, and your granddaughter die. And not in that order. I promise you this: their deaths will be neither quick nor merciful."
He had spoken loud enough so that everyone in both interrogation chambers could hear him. The eight members of the Firebrand Regiment could tell that Sir Haywood McCrank was not bluffing. Not even slightly. The prisoners in the next room had already been made quite afraid by their current predicament. Sir Haywood's threat had only frightened them further. They had not missed the name he had used when he last spoke, though.
"Dad?" Deft Pawn called out, "Are you out there?"
"Grandpa, is that you?" Velvety Touch asked hopefully.
The glaucous stallion did not reply. His voice was caught in his throat, and he stared in horror at the four seated ponies on the other side of the glass.
"Well?" Sir Haywood queried, eagerly awaiting Sir Verse's decision.
Ultimately, Verse A. Till gradually turned to the indigo stallion and uttered quietly "You can't do this."
"You're not in a position to dictate what I can and cannot do," Haywood McCrank said wryly.
"But you wouldn't do this," Sir Verse pointed out in desperation, "You're a federal officer. You swore an oath to protect the innocent citizens of Equestria."
"You swore an oath, too," Sir Haywood disputed rigidly, "An oath to serve the Canterlot Royalty. How did that work out?"
"There was no need to involve them!" the glaucous stallion argued, looking to the ponies in the next room, "They have nothing to do with my work!"
"You think I care?" the indigo stallion barked heatedly, "You should have thought of that before you committed treason!"
He then stepped forward, seized Verse A. Till by the throat, glared at him intently, and murmured through gritted teeth "Princess Celestia has ordered me to do whatever I must to stop the Vermane. I have no intention of disobeying her in this matter. I will not quit until I have completed my objective. I'm even willing to stoop to your level to accomplish it. If you stay silent, I'll prove it to you."
Sir Verse had nothing to say to that. He just gazed intensely into the other knight's eyes, as if staring at them would somehow get him and his loved ones out of this hopeless situation.
"Still won't talk?" Sir Haywood asked rhetorically. "Fine. I'll give you a little encouragement."
He peered over his shoulder and called out "Major… cut off the filly's horn."
"NO!" Verse A. Till, Hula Plow, and Risky Triumph shouted in unison.
Peacemaker merely nodded in acknowledgment, turned to his tray of medical instruments, and picked up a hacksaw. As he gradually trotted over to Velvety Touch, the other captives struggled against their restraints. Alas, they were totally secured to their chairs; their efforts were futile.
"Dad, for the love of Celestia, tell them what they want to know!" Deft Pawn pleaded.
"Are you going to let them mutilate your own granddaughter?!" Risky Triumph shot furiously at her former flame.
"What information could be more important to you than my daughter's life?!" Hula Plow hysterically shrieked.
"Grandpa, please…" Velvety Touch begged Sir Verse, "I'm scared...Stop them… Please…"
Haywood McCrank and the eight members of the Regiment were not proud of what they were doing. They were not even microscopically proud. Still, they all knew that this HAD to be done. They would go to any length to ensure Prince Bronze Star's survival.
This entire time, Sir Haywood McCrank had kept a sharpened pencil behind his left ear. As Peacemaker continued to approach Velvety Touch, Haywood reached for his pencil and twirled it around in his right front hoof. As he fiddled with it, he thought aloud "It's a terrible fate that awaits your granddaughter. She's still at the age when a Unicorn is just starting to discover her magical capabilities. Once she loses her horn, she'll never be able to use magic again. What's a Unicorn without magic? Some would argue that such a pony is useless. I personally would disagree with that mindset, but to lose something like that… it would be traumatizing. Even so, if the Major handles this procedure the way he would handle an amputation, Velvety Touch will still live. However…"
He leaned closer to Verse A. Till and scornfully speculated "Suppose it was not simply sawed off. Suppose the Major was to only slice the horn halfway. Say, he only cut deep enough to make a thick incision. Then if he was to just snap –" there he broke his pencil in half, causing Sir Verse to jump in alarm "– her horn off, like that… the results would be devastating. Having lost its buffer, all the magic in Velvety Touch's body will seek out a new outlet. Her magic will rapidly gather in her forehead, and it will continue to build up. Do you know what happens when the head receives such a powerful surge of magic? The pain is unbearable. Imagine the worst migraine headache you've ever had. Now increase it by a factor of ten. It feels endless, as though it lasts for a full five weeks. In actuality, it only takes five seconds. After that, death is almost instantaneous."
Verse A. Till had gone pale in the face by then. He had heard every word Sir Haywood just uttered. Even so, he looked no closer to speaking.
Haywood McCrank slid the two halves of his pencil into his pocket and muttered "In a strange way, I am almost inclined to label your dedication to your colleagues as commendable, Sir Verse. But how could it be honorable when you seek to protect those who have no honor? Especially when doing so endangers those who have done no wrong or those who truly deserve to live? You may have other reasons for remaining silent. Some of them might actually be good. But are they worth the knowledge that the only ponies you ever gave a buck about are about to die because of you?"
Sir Verse heard those statements, but he gave no discernable indication that he had acknowledged them. At a glance, he practically looked like a corpse himself.
"Time's up," Sir Haywood declared serenely. He turned back to the window and sternly uttered one word: "Begin."
Peacemaker was standing behind Velvety Touch at that moment. He gave a sullen nod in acknowledgment and bent down to her level. He placed his left front hoof on her shoulder to hold her in place, and with his right front hoof, he lowered his hacksaw towards her horn. The filly began to sob in fear.
Her mother had all but fainted, her father was viciously struggling against his bonds, and her grandmother glared in the direction of Verse A. Till, as though she could see him through her blindfold.
The instant before the serrated blade of the hacksaw came into contact with Velvety Touch's horn, Verse A. Till finally broke. He shot up and screamed "OKAY! OKAY! STOP THIS! STOP IT! I'LL TELL YOU EVERYTHING!"
Peacemaker promptly looked to Haywood McCrank, and the indigo stallion gestured for the scarlet stallion to stand down. The army doctor seemed relieved by that command. He backed away from Velvety Touch, but he kept his hacksaw in his hoof.
"Please, don't hurt her," Verse A. Till implored, "I'll do anything you want."
"There we go," Haywood McCrank commented in approval. He seemed very pleased with himself. It looked as though he had won his wager.
He then leaned close to Sir Verse A. Till and stated probingly "Now, how do we find the rest of the Vermane?"
Verse A. Till proceeded to tell him of a special technique that could be used to summon all the members of his organization to a single location. He claimed that only the highest-ranking members of the organization knew how to employ this technique, but all members understood it.
The technique was actually fairly straightforward. All they had to do was post an advertisement in all the settlements, towns, and major cities of Equestria which included the phrases "Come to Las Pegasus" and "You'll make your greatest score ever." That would send the Vermane flocking to a particular gathering point. Unsurprisingly, the gathering point would be in Las Pegasus.
Since the Vermane were scattered all over the country, it would have taken far too long for them to travel by hoof or by carriage. In other words, the railway lines had to be reestablished. In the midst of martial law, that process proved to be a bit of a challenge, even for the Canterlot Royalty. Luckily, Princess Luna had become influential enough that she convinced the Military Enforcement Corps to partially reinstate the national train network.
To avoid tipping off the Vermane, Sir Haywood waited until a few days after the revival of the railroads to launch that advertisement. Once the ad got out, it produced the intended outcome almost right away.
Over the next week, every member of the Vermane travelled to Las Pegasus. Most of the city's casinos had been closed down, again due to martial law. However, the Vermane were not there to place bets.
By the end of that week, every member of the Vermane had arrived in the city. There were over two hundred of them altogether. They congregated in a large empty office building near the edge of the city. There they patiently waited for further instructions.
The setting was quite ironic. The Vermane had successfully evaded the authorities ever since their group was founded. Yet not even one of them suspected that they were being set up right then.
The Vermane all remained vigilant and cautious during the day, and nothing happened. Then night came, and most of them went to bed. That was when everything fell apart for them.
Under cover of darkness, a dozen platoons of the Military Enforcement Corps surrounded the office building. After forming a tight perimeter, all twelve squads stormed the facility and engaged the Vermane in combat.
Then again, "combat" was probably an inaccurate term. In context, it usually implies two parties fighting. There was little to no fighting on the part of the Vermane. In fact, what happened to them was, for all intents and purposes, a massacre.
Princess Luna had been the one who ordered the assault, but Sir Haywood McCrank had commissioned them. He had given the Constabulary Contingent three short but totally clear directives:
No quarter. No mercy. Kill them all.
That was precisely what the Corps did. They slaughtered everypony they found in that building. Anypony who wore a full-body jumpsuit, anypony who brandished a strange knife, anypony who carried a bizarre spyglass, anypony who looked as though he had spilt blood in his life… nopony was spared. None of the Vermane had a chance to surrender, retreat, defend themselves, or even put up much of a fight. They were all cut down like the heartless thugs they were.
Just like that, the Vermane were totally eradicated overnight.
Well, not totally eradicated.
For a short while after his associates were exterminated, Verse A. Till still lived. But he was only kept alive long enough to ascertain that every last one of his colleagues had been eliminated.
Once Sir Verse helped them to verify that he was the only remaining member of the Vermane, he was dealt with, too.
Verse A. Till's execution was a private affair. It took place in the hospital wing of Canterlot Castle. Normally, it would have been conducted in the throne room or another secluded location. But Sir Haywood McCrank and a few others felt it would have been poetic justice for the last surviving member of the Vermane to lose his life in the same room where Bronze Star would regain his. Plus, it felt only right for Bronze Star to be present for the execution, even though he would not be conscious at the time. Additionally, Princess Celestia would have been able to attend as well, as she still had not left her son since he fell into his coma.
The only people who witnessed Sir Verse A. Till's execution were Princess Luna and everypony else who had known about the Vermane's existence. One end of a rope was tied to one of the ceiling fixture, and the other end was formed into a noose, which was tightened around Verse A. Till's neck.
Strange as it may seem, Verse A. Till did not seem particularly bothered by his own death. Seeing his granddaughter tortured and knowing that they would know he was a traitor to his country had rendered him a shell of his former self. That had already killed him in spirit. Even so, his physical death still needed to be carried out.
After Princess Luna gave a brief speech about the virtues of integrity and dedication, she sentenced Verse A. Till to death for the crimes of attempted regicide and conspiracy. Consequentially, SIG Sauer kicked the platform out from under the glaucous stallion, and he was left to hang until he was "dead, dead, dead." Three minutes later, Surgeon General Purple Heart pronounced him as such.
Right when Sir Verse A. Till's body was being moved to the morgue, Bronze Star's vitals started to fluctuate. Purple Heart took a minute to examine them, and he happily declared that the gold stallion was on the verge of regaining consciousness.
Less than ten minutes later, his predication came true. Bronze Star slowly began to stir, and his eyes gradually opened up. Applejack and Princess Celestia were standing on either side of him; they helped him to sit up.
The young prince needed a minute to regain his bearings. Once he did, he realized he was surrounded by twenty-six ponies (the ten members of the Firebrand Regiment, the six Bearers of the Elements of Harmony, the five members of the Ponyville task force, his aunt, his mother, his mother's chief of staff, Lord Ambit Dexter, and the Surgeon General) and Spike.
"How long was I out?" was Bronze Star's first question.
Applejack just smirked, sat on the side of her coltfriend's bed, and enlightened him with "Let's just say that when you last closed your eyes, you were still twenty-five."
"And now I'm not?" Bronze Star assumed.
"Nope," Applejack confirmed, resting her head against his chest, "I'm datin' a guy whose closer to thirty than twenty."
Bronze Star grinned, wrapped his front legs around his fillyfriend, and queried "How does that feel?"
"To be honest… pretty nice," the orange mare professed. Bronze Star was quite pleased by that reply.
"In any case, happy belated birthday, Bronze!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed giddily, blowing into a noisemaker.
If the gold stallion had not been fully awake before, he certainly was then. He shook his head a bit to clear it, and then he muttered "Thanks, Pinkie. Sorry you had to forgo the party this time, though."
"We didn't!" the pink mare revealed, "We threw one while you were unconscious."
"Don't know whether I should be flattered or offended by that," Bronze Star thought aloud, "But given how concerned you all must have been, I'm inclined to say the former would be the better choice."
"Well, if you want, Bronze, we could throw another party," Pinkie Pie suggested.
"Okay," the young prince conceded, "But I'd like to recover my strength first. So could you wait until I'm capable of getting out of this bed on my own?"
"Sure," Pinkie asserted. The others agreed to wait that long, as well.
At the request of the Surgeon General, most of the gold stallion's visitors exited the hospital wing so that he could recuperate. Applejack, Princess Luna, Princess Celestia, and Purple Heart were the only ones who stayed with Bronze Star.
Later that day, martial law was rescinded. Every unit of the Military Enforcement Corps was recalled to Canterlot, and everypony was allowed to return to their everyday lives.
Furthermore, Princess Celestia was ready to reassume her duties as the Princess of the Day. She was immensely grateful to Luna for handling that responsibility for the past five weeks. Now both sisters knew what it was like to be the guardian of both the Sun and the Moon.
For the moment, all seemed right with Equestria once again.
But that was just an illusion.
In the last month, Equestria had become more hectic than it had ever been in the past thousand years. Even the last Summer Sun Celebration had not been this disastrous.
Martial law had made the majority of all the citizens in Equestria nervous and disturbed.
The fact that Bronze Star had almost been murdered made most Equestrians fear for their own well-being.
Six massive business corporations were facing a multitude of financial troubles, as the Vermane had used them to make all their profits. All six companies had lost a tremendous amount of credibility and clientele as a result.
The swift extermination of the Vermane was a symbol of everything that was antithetical to Princess Celestia's peaceful and just reign.
An innocent filly had almost been made to suffer for her grandfather's crimes. A generally compassionate and empathic government officer had nearly been forced to cause that suffering.
All that together left Equestria in a very fragile state. So much disorder and so much conflict had been generated recently. It left the balance of Equestria in a very delicate state.
In fact, if just one more notable act of chaos was to occur… there was no telling how grim the consequences would be.
I always planned for the Vermane's downfall to be this abrupt. Sorry if you were disappointed to see them be removed from the story so early into this fanfic. However, as you have probably deduced from the last passage of this chapter, they will be somewhat pivotal in the transition to Season 2.
By the way, I have a lot of things going on right now, such as graduate school and similar obligations. Also, I recently began working on a Song of Ice and Fire fanfic. In terms of feedback and views, that fanfic is much more popular than this own. So I'll be giving priority to that fanfic. In other words, updates for this one will be a little more sporadic and spaced out, but they will still be definite.
Next chapter, Return of Harmony Part 1!